To Love Free
"Written from the heart and personal experience it is moving and uplifting. A classic, traditional Lesfic romance extremely well done."
- Curve Magazine.
by Chris Paynter
World-renowned artist Madison Lorraine leads a quiet life in Islamorada, Florida, with her nine-year-old daughter, Mo. Madison hasn’t painted in over three years since her wife and muse, Callie, lost her battle with cancer.
Supermodel Gabrielle Valenci’s arrival at her family home in Islamorada unsettles Madison’s comfortable routine. Gabrielle has left a floundering relationship behind in New York and travels to Florida to undergo the last of her chemotherapy. Her prognosis is excellent, but her journey since the initial cancer diagnosis has been rocky.
The appearance of a dolphin in their cove coincides with Gabrielle’s arrival next door. With each unannounced visit, he inspires Gabrielle and Madison as he gently nudges them together. Soon, Madison is accompanying Gabrielle to her treatments. Although the bond between them strengthens and their mutual attraction grows, both are hesitant to take the next step. Can they learn To Love Free again?
Sometimes, the fragile human heart is reluctant to heal. But Madison and Gabrielle never counted on the persistence of one determined, magical dolphin they call “Free.”
Chapter 1 is the first meeting of Madison Lorraine, her daughter, Mo, and the dolphin they name "Free."
Chapter 1 Excerpt
"Mom! Wake up!"
Madison Lorraine, with her cheek buried in a pillow, popped one eye open and attempted to focus on her nine-year-old daughter's face within an inch of her own.
"It's Saturday, Mo. Cartoons, remember?" She closed her eye and tried to reenter her interrupted dream.
"But, Mom, there's a shark in the cove. Come on!" Mo tugged once on Madison's arm and ran out of the room.
Madison bolted upright. She scrambled to disentangle her legs from the sheet and blanket.
"Mo! Mo, wait. Don't you dare go anywhere near the water!" Madison managed two steps forward before falling onto her knees, still entangled in the bedding. "Damn it." She threw everything aside and sprinted out onto the deck. The hard wood reverberated through the soles of her feet. "Shit." She debated for a couple of seconds about going back for her shoes. Seeing Mo racing to the shore convinced her. She rushed down the steps. "Mo, what did I say?"
Mo pointed to the middle of the cove. Madison cupped her hand over her eyes and spotted the gray-skinned form swimming about twenty yards offshore. He was right at the drop-off into deeper waters. He swam parallel to them and turned to swim back, his dorsal fin barely visible.
Madison stepped nearer to the water. Mo edged even closer. Madison reached out and grabbed her hand to pull her back.
"Didn't I say not to go near the water?"
Mo looked up at her. Her blonde hair, bleached almost white from her days in the Florida heat, reflected the sun. Madison's breath caught in her throat as she met her daughter's bright blue eyes. The same blue as Callie's. Mo was Madison's life, but sometimes it hurt to look at her. The image of Madison's dead partner bombarded her.
"Mom? You okay?"
Before Madison answered, a splash brought her attention back to the water. Sharks didn't jump and splash in the water unless they were going after a seal. At least according to those National Geographic specials. Madison wondered if she'd mistaken the sound. Then the fish flew out of the water in front of them, performed a perfect pirouette, and landed back in the water with another resounding splash.
"It's a dolphin!" Mo jumped up and down. "Can I go in and swim with him?"
"No, you most certainly cannot. You don't know where he's been."
Madison cringed. Did I actually just say that?
"That's silly, Mom. He's been in the water."
"Hey, don't get smart with me."
The dolphin leapt in the air again, this time barely causing a ripple as he dove back in. "He's wild, Mo. It's not safe."
The dolphin danced across the water on his tail. If Madison didn't know any better, she'd think he was showing off, as if to say, "See? I'm harmless."
Mo giggled. "Isn't he cute? He doesn't look like he'd hurt us." She broke free of Madison's grasp and sprinted toward their dock.
Madison hurried after her. "Montanna Marie, don't you dare get in that water."
Mo slowed to a stop at the full use of her name. Then she gave Madison her best "sad puppy" imitation, complete with cocked head to the side.
"Please, Mom? We don't have to go into the water. Maybe we can see if he'll come up to us." She stuck out her bottom lip in an adorable pout.
Since Callie's death a little over three years ago, Madison found she gave in to Mo's whims far too frequently. But this was a little much. Despite how friendly the dolphin seemed, it wasn't like they were dealing with Flipper here.
The dolphin stuck his nose out of the water, making a sound very much like Flipper communicating with the boy in the old television show. Okay, now that's too weird. She followed Mo to the end of the dock. Mo knelt down on her knees and held her hand over the water.
"Damn it, Mo." All of Madison's good thoughts about Flipper vanished as her mind flashed on an image of the dolphin latching onto Mo and yanking her down with him. She knelt, pulled Mo back, and hugged her tight to her body. She didn't realize she was trembling until Mo's excited expression turned to one of worry.
"I'm okay, Mom."
"I know you are, and we're going to keep it that way."
The dolphin dipped back under the water. Madison leaned forward with Mo to try to get a glimpse of him. He resurfaced, pushed his nose into the water, and flipped it out, spraying water toward them.
They skittered back from the edge but not before they were both drenched.
The dolphin made the laughing noise again, and Madison thought, I'll be damned if he doesn't look like he's smiling at us.
"That wasn't funny," she called out to him.
Mo held her sides as she giggled and pointed at Madison.
"You don't look much better, Montanna."
Madison thought the dolphin had left them, but he resurfaced in front of the dock. He jabbered for a few seconds, nodded, and did the oddest thing. He captured Madison's gaze and held it. Madison stared, mesmerized. What the—
Mo said something that Madison didn't catch at first.
"What did you say?" Madison asked.
"Can we keep him?" Mo tugged on her hand. "Please?"
She shook free from her trance. "No. He's not a puppy, Montanna."
The dolphin whistled at them before he turned toward the area that led back to the Gulf. Madison wasn't sure he'd headed that way until he leapt into sight right before he entered open water.
"Ah, shoot. He's leaving." Mo crossed her arms and stomped her foot. She looked exactly like her biological mother when Callie and Madison would have an argument. Madison bit her lip to keep from laughing.
"There's proof he's not a pet." Madison motioned toward the water. "He's free to come and go as he pleases." She doubted he'd be back, though she didn't want to share that with Mo. She was already on the verge of tears.
Madison took her by the shoulders and aimed her toward the house. "Come on. I'll fix you some pancakes." As they walked down the dock, she turned back one last time to catch another glimpse of the dolphin. He was nowhere in sight.